Vi­tal pa­pers prov­ing Jewish iden­tity held back by Egypt

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY JENNI FRAZER

A DEL­E­GA­TION of Egyp­tian Jews and a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Amer­i­can Jewish Com­mit­tee (AJC) are head­ing for Cairo at the end of April to talk to the coun­try’s Min­istry of Cul­ture about the one­time Jewish com­mu­nity’s cher­ished life cy­cle reg­is­ters.

Scores of bound vol­umes, con­tain­ing ev­ery de­tail of the births, mar­riages and deaths of Jews from Alexan­dria and Cairo, which date back to the mid­dle of the 19th cen­tury, were once kept in the two main sy­n­a­gogues in each city. But, last year, with­out prior warn­ing, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials ar­rived at the sy­n­a­gogues and took away the reg­is­ters, which are now stored in the Egyp­tian Na­tional Ar­chives.

Rabbi An­drew Baker of the AJC said: “For many Egyp­tian Jews these are the only for­mal records which might other­wise be in­scribed in civil records. And there are cases where they are very im­por­tant in prov­ing a per­son’s Jewish iden­tity, for burial or for mar­riage.”

One of the lead­ers of the Nebe Daniel or­gan­i­sa­tion, Yves Fe­dida, who is part of the forth­com­ing Cairo del­e­ga­tion, said that the scat­tered com­mu­nity of Egyp­tian Jews — some of whom de­pend on the in­for­ma­tion in the reg­is­ters to prove their Jewish sta­tus — had been try­ing to per­suade the gov­ern­ment for more than 12 years to al­low copies to be made of the reg­is­ters.

At first, the gov­ern­ment re­sisted, say­ing that there was a chance Jews out­side Egypt would use the in­for­ma­tion for com­pen­sa­tion claims. But this was dis­missed by the Egyp­tian Jews as stonewalling, be­cause the reg­is­ters did not con­tain de­tails of property own­er­ship.

“Then came the Arab Spring and there was no hope of per­suad­ing any­one in the gov­ern­ment when the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood were in charge,” Mr Fe­dida said.

Once Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fat­tah alSisi took power, how­ever, there was new op­ti­mism, but so far there has been no re­sponse ei­ther to di­rect pleas or to a change.org pe­ti­tion.

Mr Fe­dida said: “We have lost our big­gest trea­sure with the reg­is­ters. They in­clude, be­side the pre­cious records of births, mar­riages, and deaths, ha­lachic rul­ings by Egyp­tian rab­bis, who were said to be among the most prag­matic and least dog­matic of all those in the Mediter­ranean area.”

Most Egyp­tian Jews left the coun­try in two waves, after 1948 and again after 1967. The com­mu­nity’s life-cy­cle reg­is­ters

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